The U.S. Navy is making a major shift in its advertising strategy this year, with 97 percent of its annual budget being assigned to digital, with an emphasis on esports and YouTube. The reason for this major change is to divert advertising dollars away from TV and toward media that are more popular with its target demographic of consumers ages 17-28. The remaining three percent of budget are expected to be used for billboards and radio ads.

This change is the result of less-than-satisfying ROI from TV ads played during last year’s Super Bowl. But the decision did not come as a surprise. Since 2018, the U.S. Navy has been spending less on TV ads, noticing that, so far, there have been no effects on recruitment, signifying it was time to rethink its strategy.

In addition to esports recruitment ads, the U.S. Navy plans to sponsor esports events and create its own esports team recruited from active-duty military. According to a report published in January 2019 by Syracuse University, “With Viewership and Revenue Booming, Esports Set To Compete With Traditional Sports,” esports has a viewership of 84 million, 61 percent who are under the age of 25, with 451 million fans; a figure that exceeds all professional sports leagues aside from the NFL, which has a viewership of 141 billion. The report also stated that by end of this year, American consumers will have devoted three billion hours to watching esports.

The U.S. Navy’s new strategy also follows suit to moves made by other branches of the military. In 2018, The U.S. Air Force partnered with ELEAGUE—a professional esports league and championship game-play that broadcasts on TBS, Twitch and YouTube—and became the MVP sponsor for ELEAGUE’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major Championships in Boston. The U.S. Air Force also has its own esports team, the U.S. Air Force Academy Esports team, which placed fourth in the Mountain West Conference Finals for League of Legends in Las Vegas. The U.S. Army also partnered with Complexity, an esports organization, and in late 2019, Complexity players participated in a bootcamp-style exercise alongside active-duty soldiers at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. U.S. Army Esports, established in November 2018, is the Army’s esports team, which consists of active-duty and reserve soldiers.


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.